Spin Cycle

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Bulletins over Broadway: Top critic's address to follow Obama's

Most news organizations have missed the essential political angle in upcoming back-to-back spring ceremonies at Barnard and Columbia colleges in Manhattan.

Barnard landed President Barack Obama for its May 14 graduation ceremony. Next day, across Broadway in Morningside Heights, Columbia College has John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s magazine, stepping up to the microphone to address its Class Day. The New York Times has reported on some of the inter-collegiate snark that followed the announcements (see link here), and CNN did a bit of examination on how colleges draw commencement speakers (link here).

MacArthur graduated Columbia in 1978, five years before the president.

Obama’s re-election year speech to a women’s college will inevitably be heard in the context of the campaign. Depending on his approach, MacArthur could be the perfect counter-point, since his writings have been intensely critical of Obama -- whose adherence to the Washington status quo, per MacArthur, so often goes unstated by both major parties. For example, in February 2011, he wrote (full piece linked here):

“Back in the summer of 2008, when Barack Obama was still the bright new hope of liberals, I found myself chastised for raining on the future president's parade. My essential point -- that an administration incubated and hatched in Chicago would never break with the autocratic, anti-reformist, reactionary traditions of the city's Democratic machine -- was unwelcome among Democrats desperate for a savior after eight dark years of George W. Bush….”

And last December, MacArthur wrote (full piece linked here):

“By now it should be obvious that the system, and the Democratic Party, run Obama, not the other way around. Under this arrangement, the president carries out his duties as pre-eminent party functionary—fundraising being at the top of his list of responsibilities—and defers on legislation, leaving it to corrupt Democratic barons such as Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), devoted friend of the insurance, pharmaceutical, and banking crowd, and sworn enemy of reform.”

So when the dates arrive, expect accounts and video clips of a slogan-like ‘Obama-to-women message’ one day -- followed by MacArthur’s view the next. The contrast could be fun and -- who knows -- maybe generate some debate of a less-predictable kind.

Tags: Barack Obama , John R. MacArthur , Barnard College , Columbia College , Harper's , Democrats , Republican , Washington D.C. , George W. Bush , Max Baucus , presidential election

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